How to manage your digital assets before you die

It’s no secret that today’s world is becoming increasingly digital. People own more digital assets than ever before, including photographs, music, books, and even different forms of currency.

Understanding how to properly manage these assets when a person dies can be confusing, because policies vary widely from company to company across the Internet.

Marissa German is an associate at McLeod Law LLP, and has written articles on topics such as digital asset estate planning for Wealth Matter. She says that digital assets can carry different types of value, ranging from monetary to sentimental and reputational values.

“I don’t think that people really think about their Hotmail account, or their Facebook account, or their Twitter account, or YouTube account as having value, but they certainly do, even if it’s not monetary,” German explains.

German recommends that people give power to their executor to specifically manage their digital assets. This provides companies with the certainty the executor is authorized to deal with the digital assets.

In a world that is becoming more and more digitized every day, figuring out how to manage your digital assets post-mortem is also becoming more important. Photo courtesy of Paul Wilkinson, Creative Commons“Review the terms of the service contracts,” says German. “All of these different service providers have different service contracts, and they all have different provisions as to what happens on death.”

Social media

Facebook has two different options that can either allow the profiles of the deceased to be turned into memorial pages, or they can be removed completely at the request of a family member or an executor of the estate.

Twitter will remove the profile of a deceased user at the request of the executor or a verified family member upon receiving a copy of the death certificate, as well as any further information they may require, such as valid ID from the person who requests the removal. Additionally, in certain circumstances, Twitter will remove imagery of those who have passed away out of respect for loved ones. However, they may refuse to remove such images if they are considered to be in the public’s interest.

Instagram’s privacy policy simply states to contact them in the event that a user passes away, and they will communicate in regards to the death and proper subsequent actions to be taken primarily via email.

LinkedIn requires several smaller actions in order to close the account of a deceased person. This includes: the name of the person who passed away, the URL for the profile of the deceased, the relationship of the deceased to the requester, the deceased’s email, death date, a link to an obituary, and the company that they most recently worked at.

According to wills and estates lawyer Marissa German, people often don’t think about the value that their online assets may have to family and friends after their passing, but in reality, this property can be just as important for sentimental, or even monetary, reasons, to those the deceased leaves behind. Photo courtesy of Marcie Casas, Creative Commons

Email

Google’s Gmail (as well as other Google accounts including Google+, Google Drive, Pictures etc.) can be managed through something that they call Inactive Account Manager. This allows users to name someone who has authority to manage your Google accounts if for any reason your account should become inactive for a period of time. It also gives users the option to delete all data from the account if it is inactive for a certain period of time. It is extremely difficult to gain access to the deceased’s Google accounts without these permissions.

Microsoft’s Outlook has a Next-of-Kin process to help the family members of those who have passed away. Upon giving them the required details, they will release Outlook.com content, including emails and attachments, on a DVD that will be shipped to the next-of-kin.

Music, movies, apps & e-books

Every time consumers purchase a song, an app, a movie on iTunes, or an e-book for the iPad or Kindle, they are not really purchasing the content. Instead, you are licensing it from Apple or Amazon for personal use only. Unfortunately, this means that the consumer cannot legally will these products to someone else.

“This is an area where people are not really aware about these issues, and how to handle it. It’s something where the law is not really catching up with what’s actually happening due to the advances in technology,” says German.

Some things to keep in mind

According to German, it’s a good idea to leave your passwords in one location, such as a safety deposit box, that your executor will have access to. Leave your log-on IDs in another location so that your accounts cannot be easily accessed. This is the easiest way to give your executor access to your online accounts, as well as provide specific authority in the will.

However, it is important to use some caution when giving passwords and login information to others.

“All of these service providers have their contracts where if someone other than the account user accesses the account, or ‘ghosts’ and logs on as that person, the account could be shut down,” says German.

Thumbnail and graphic by Jesse Yardley.

nholland@cjournal.ca

The editor responsible for this story is Michaela Ritchie, mritchie@cjournal.ca